With egg prices on the rise, more people may be tempted to raise their own backyard chickens.
Before you decide to start building your own coop, health experts have a word of warning: caring for backyard chickens isn’t as easy as bringing home a new kitten, and keeping chickens can have many serious health risks . the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Chickens can spread bacteria
Additional precautions are required when handling hens and their eggs.
“Poultry can have salmonella bacteria in their feces and on their bodies, even when they look healthy and clean,” says Dr. Kathy Benedict, a veterinary epidemiologist at the CDC.
The bacteria can live in the bird’s beak, wings or feet, as well as in its digestive system, and can spread to areas around where the bird lives and on a person’s clothing, hands or shoes. This can make people around you sick.
In the last year alone, there have been several multi-state salmonella outbreaks. Indoor chicken coops were responsible for at least 1,200 people getting sick with salmonella, Benedict says.
At least 225 people were hospitalized, and there were two poultry-related deaths in people’s backyards in 2022 alone.
“This has been happening for the past few years, at least a thousand cases a year have been reported,” says Benedict. “We estimate that there are many more cases that are not necessarily being reported to public health authorities.”
Chickens can also expose humans to campylobacter bacteria.
Neither bacteria usually makes the bird sick, but both can cause diarrhea, fever and colic in humans.
Benedict says people with weakened immune systems, including those with illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, kidney or liver problems, as well as young children, should be more careful with backyard chickens, as they can develop diseases. . they become infected.
Steps to keep people safe
If you decide to have your own chickens, the CDC advises parents to prevent their children under 5 from touching the animals. Interaction with older children should be supervised by parents. Chicks may be cute, but young children in particular are much more likely to get sick with salmonella because their immune systems are still developing.
“Don’t kiss or cuddle the backyard birds, don’t eat or drink around them,” advises Benedict.
Backyard poultry and tools used in the coop should remain in the yard and out of the house to keep bacteria confined to the area where the birds live.
People should also have “hen shoes” – which are worn exclusively when interacting with chickens. Don’t forget to remove them before returning from the coop to avoid bringing bacteria inside.
Always wash your hands after touching chickens or keep hand sanitizer outside where you can sanitize your hands before entering.
Precautions for handling eggs
When it comes to handling hen eggs, people should collect them immediately and not leave them in the nest, as they can become dirty or break. Cracked eggs should be thrown away, as a crack can allow bacteria to get inside.
Once the eggs are collected, if there is dirt, you should use a fine sandpaper, brush or cloth to clean the dirt. You should not wash the eggs with water because colder water can push germs into the eggs.
The CDC recommends that people store their eggs in the refrigerator to keep them fresh. Cooler temperatures also slow down microbial growth.
When cooking eggs, make sure the yolk and white are set to reduce exposure to bacteria again.
“At CDC, we want to protect people’s health, but we also understand that people want to have their chickens. We love that connection between animals and people,” says Benedict. “But there is a safe way to do it.”